George Lakoff claims, “a frame is a conceptual structure used in thinking,” evoked by a word that produces an image. When considering some of the words and images constituting ‘reality’ how do they structure, codify, and/or ‘frame’ our collective and individual subject positions? For example, the word freedom may produce images of mass protest, civil rights movements, or purple fingers, but could also inspire images of a toppling dictator’s statue and tortured prisoners; moreover, what about the words terror, modernity, or civilization? What images do these words inspire and how do they ‘frame’ reality into prescribed and predictable constructs?
In the Platonic sense, ‘frames’ could be considered ‘shadows’ of representation that the prisoners of “The Cave” see as truth. Nevertheless, although these shadows are not truth, they are, perhaps, easier to manage and understand than to confront as otherwise uncomfortable uncertainty. Thus, it is arguably easier (and more enjoyable) to perceive the shadow images of illusion than to consider them as only temporary representations unable to fully describe reality. Perhaps these shadow images now play a more aggressive role in simulation, which is–through technology and the media industry—perpetually becoming further removed from an objective reality. In this sense, if everything constituting social reality is ‘shadows’ on the wall of a ‘cave’ (or screen) -what is reality?
While Lakoff argues images ‘frame’ our perceptions of reality, others—such as Jean Baudrillard—have proposed that the image now completely supplants reality: the shadows on Plato's cave are all there is –total simulation. Ultimately, to describe the relationship of image and reality as ‘shadows’ (or simulations) on the wall is limiting. Obviously, the relationship between reality and our image of this reality is complex and multifaceted. As Walter Lippmann has rightfully noted, we “must begin... by recognizing the triangular relationship between the scene of action, the human picture of that scene, and the human response to that picture working itself out upon the scene of action."
Even if we don't accept this, we must acknowledge the vital role images play in constructing and regulating social reality. Nationality, race, religion, and sex are only a few examples of words—connected with images—consistently reaffirmed to ‘frame’ subject positions. But these are not the only words and images available.
The vicissitudes of art display the malleable and interchangeable possibility of the image as well as how it could potentially ‘de-frame’ society’s conceptual constructs. Although the image reflects preconceived (and subsequently legitimate) reality, it also holds the potential of creating a not-yet-conceived, or utopian, reality. After all, since the word and image constructs and mediates the ways in which we ‘frame’ our national, sexual, and spiritual identities, then critically understanding the role of these words and images is essential in developing any counter words and images. Furthermore, if mass media, politics, and consumer culture rely on the word and image to legitimize and sustain its power positions, then what ways can this power be contested or re-appropriated to develop new realities –if it can at all?
This interdisciplinary conference is free and open to the public and hopes to explore some of the possibilities and limits of the questions above.
New School University, Graduate Faculty
Dept. of Liberal Studies
65 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10003 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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